Sunday, July 26, 2009

Favorite Writing Advice

There is a bridge. It is not the kind of bridge that starts at point A and goes directly to point B. No. It is a bridge that floats on water, like a dock, and it twists and turns just as a maze does. You can get turned around and lost on this bridge. You can circle around to places that you have been before. And you can sit and watch others wondering around. Some will tell you of the other side. Some will tell you how they found their way across before. This bridge, of course, is the bridge that we as aspiring writers are trying to cross. There is a bookstore on the other side. And in that bookstore is a place for our story.

Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, tells the story of how she had to fight and not give up on herself in order to have a book not dumped by an editor who had given her most of her advance already. It is a short chapter called Plot Treatment, and you should read it the next time you are in a book store. Right now this story is my favorite piece of advice on how to make it across the bridge.

What is so wonderful about this story is that she actually fails many times--and it hurts. She could have given up. Many would have, given the same obstacles, but she continues and does things that might seem crazy. If you are looking for inspiration, read those pages. I'm so tempted to tell her story, but I'll just tell you how it starts. Her editor sent her a letter that said, "This is perhaps the hardest letter I've ever had to write."

This is my favorite bit of writing advice right now because it shows that you can be in a state of crisis, or close to failure, but you can also be very close to making your way through to the other side. Anne does more than find the courage to continue. She discovers how to find her story and how to communicate what she wants her story to be. That discovery shows that we--if we are so brave and dedicated--can also find our story and make it to the other side.

What's your favorite bit of writing advice or favorite inspirational writing story?

Have you read Bird by Bird? What did you think?


  1. I have not read that book, but it is one of two writing books I'm willing to read because I have heard so many good things about it. Writers fail because they give up, and that is all there is to it. I've failed at many things in my life, but writing seems to be something I'll keep at even beyond publishing. Obviously, we must keep writing to be writers and succeed. I look forward to reading that chapter! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I've had the book for years but reread that chapter after your post and I can't decide if I'm terrified or fortified. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that "Bird by Bird" is a fantastic book that every writer should read. And that Lamott proves determination can get us to the other side.

  3. I have heard nothing but praise for "Bird by Bird". I need to pick up a copy.

  4. Hey Dave! Great to see you're up and running (pun?).

    That book is pretty damn wonderful. Enjoyed every page.

    Actually, some of my favorite writing advice doesn't come from a quote, it comes from Frank McCourt's life. Didn't publish until his sixties because he was busy teaching in a public school for 30 years. He was so refreshing to read, and as a teacher I loved 'Teacher Man'.

    I know people say to force yourself to write a little while every day, but, like everything else, it depends on the person.

    Thanks, Dave

  5. I read Bird by Bird long before I ever thought of writing fiction. I found it inspiring and insightful even then.

    In fact, I think it's time to re-read it. I could use some inspiration and encouragement.

  6. i loved reading it -- i laughed and cried through it: we allowed our "students" to select one of their writing books for this summer's course and many chose Bird by Bird.


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